Turtle vs. Tortoise vs. Terrapin [Difference Chart]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Have you ever seen an animal that resembles a tortoise but you can’t place it based on appearance alone? Or maybe you’re interested in learning more about the differences between these three species namely, turtle, tortoise, and terrapin. This is a very interesting discussion.

All three of these reptiles have a common ancestor in the Chelonian group. Tortoises, on the other hand, are herbivores that prefer to live on land, while turtles are omnivores that are better suited to the water. The terrapin is a kind of tiny turtle found in fresh water.

The most obvious distinction is that tortoises, terrapins, and turtles all prefer somewhat different habitats and diets. These habitats have played a role in spurring the evolution of these species.

As a result, their bodies have morphed in various ways to better suit their specific circumstances. Let’s examine some particulars that allow us to distinguish between these intriguing animals and their kind. Read on to learn the distinctions between these variations.

What Do Turtle, Tortoise, And Terrapin Mean?

A misconception has contributed to the debate over whether turtles and tortoises are distinct species. The definition of a tortoise has been expanded in several parts of the globe.

‘Turtle’ may mean any member of the family Testudines, which includes turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, in various regions. This seems to have developed through time for the sake of linguistic ease.

Generally speaking, a tortoise is not considered a turtle in the rest of the world, and this is supported by scientific consensus.

Here is a chart of differences between turtles, terrapins, and tortoises for your easy understanding:

  HabitatTotally aquatic.  dwell in extremely vast saltwater bodies, like seas and oceans.Semi-aquatic animals. Inhabit tiny, freshwater or “brackish” bodies of water including ponds, rivers, and marshes.Creatures that live on land. They are unable to swim and will die if forced into the water above their heads.
Food habitOmnivorous. Consume both plant materials and animal protein in their diet.Same as turtles. Omnivorous.strictly herbivorous. They need a lot of greenery every day to sustain and build their bodies.
  ShellMostly possess shells that are flat and oval.The shells are spherical and somewhat flattened.The shells are rounded, tall, and thick.
  LimbThere are no feet. Rather, they possess flippers that assist them through the water.Possess short, stocky legs, somewhat flattened, and webbed toes. Toes are all equipped with sharp claws.Have strong, powerful legs that protrude from their torso at an angle.
  LifespanMostly may be expected to survive for 70–80 years in the wild.The average lifespan is only a few decades.Their median age is 80, and can live to be over 100!


Those turtles that live in the ocean spend the vast majority of their lifetimes in the ocean, only coming ashore to nest. Their shells are sleek and smooth to help them swim more efficiently.

There are certain species of turtles that may reach quite large sizes. The leatherback is the biggest of all marine turtles.

Its absence of a bony shell and replacement with a leathery carapace sets it apart from other similar creatures. An adult leatherback may range in size from 250 to 700 kg in weight.

The hawksbill sea turtle, the green sea turtle, and the leatherback turtle are a few of the most well-known turtle species.


Tortoises can only survive in arid, hot climates on dry soil. They lack the sleek bodies of sea turtles and have dome-shaped carapaces instead, as well as columnar feet armed with claws.

Although they struggle in the water, they may sometimes bathe in a swamp or a ditch to stay clean and hydrated.

Tortoises, like sea turtles, have the potential to reach impressive sizes and survive for extremely lengthy periods of time.

The biggest ones are the Aldabra tortoises from Seychelles and the giant tortoises of the Galapagos and the Indian Ocean. They may reach a maximum length of 1.3 meters and a weight of 417 kilograms.


Terrapins are a kind of tiny turtle found in both fresh and salt water. For the most part, they make their homes in temperate or tropical forests close to water sources like rivers, lakes, and streams.

The Algonquian phrase “torope” means “small turtle” in Native American languages, and this is where the English word “terrapin” originates.

Red-eared sliders and yellow-bellied sliders are two of the most well-known terrapin varieties.

Terrapins do not become very large. However, there are certain terrapins that may grow to be over 60 cm in length and weigh up to 80 kg, such as the snapping turtle.

Aggressive terrapins may cause serious injuries if they are bitten. Their claws are razor sharp, and their jaws may snap with incredible force.

They may not have teeth, yet one bite from them is all it takes to lop off a finger. They could ‘bark’ at you if they’re very furious.

What Is The Difference Between Turtles, Terrapins, And Tortoise?

To learn the difference between a tortoise and a turtle, all one has to do is watch them in their natural habitat. If you pay attention to where they reside, you can tell the difference between the two in no time.

1. Habitat

Tortoises Are Land Animals

The tortoise is descended from the more common turtle, and it is said to be a turtle that settled in one place because it enjoyed it so much.

Tortoises no longer have the capacity to swim and don’t inhabit aquatic environments since nature doesn’t create things that aren’t useful.

If you place a tortoise in deep water, or if it accidentally finds itself in deep water, it will drown. Tortoises like bathing in water and actually absorb moisture via a vent in their cloaca.

Tortoise communities may be found in a wide variety of environments, from deserts to woodlands to swamps. Tortoises can be found throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Turtles Are Aquatic

Because of their aquatic lifestyle, aquatic turtles are easily distinguished from tortoises. Tortoises spend the vast majority of their lives on land, whereas aquatic turtles spend almost their entire lives in the water.

Although tortoises may be found in North America, turtles can also originate from other continents including Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Turtles spend their whole lives in the water due to their aquatic nature. In the water, they feed, mate, travel, and eventually perish.

They only go onto land to deposit their eggs, which they do by digging nests on beaches. After hatching, many newborn turtles have a lengthy, laborious journey from the shore to the sea.

Terrapins Are Semi-Aquatic

The terrapin lives in a wet and dry environment. They like to make their home in fresh or “brackish” water, and hence prefer smaller bodies of water like ponds, rivers, and estuaries.

Some salt is present in brackish or briny water, but it is not sufficient for the survival of marine organisms. Water is where terrapins spend most of their time.

Once in a while, though, they may venture out of the water and over dry ground in search of a new watering hole or to dry up their shells by sunning themselves on rocks or logs.

2. Food Habit

Tortoises Are Herbivores

Tortoises only consume plant-based foods. In the wild, they consume whatever plants are available to them (while avoiding poisonous ones, of course).

The tortoise in the desert would likely be munching on a beautiful cactus, while its woodland counterpart would feast on a variety of fruit.

This is less common in the wild, but spoilt pet tortoises may develop picky eating habits. Because of this, domesticated tortoises may require extra calcium.

Plus, if they aren’t exposed to sufficient ultraviolet radiation from the sun, the can’t produce vitamin D3 in order to maintain a healthy body.

Turtles And Terrapins Are Omnivores

Both terrapins and turtles are classified as omnivores, meaning their diets include both plant and animal products.

The diet of a turtle or terrapin is quite diverse and relies heavily on the foods that are naturally occurring in its habitat.

Young turtles and terrapins, who are still developing, need far more protein than their more mature counterparts.

This is because they require the nutrients found in animal products in order to develop healthy muscles, joints, and bones.

Once they reach adulthood, turtles and terrapins switch to a plant-based diet since they no longer need to put as much energy into body growth and can focus instead on keeping their bodies in good working order.

3. The Shells


Tortoise shells tend to be tall, thick, and spherical. Because of this design, their shells are very protective.

Their body, limbs, and internal organs have room to move within the dome shell and are protected from the outside.

Tortoises are capable of completely withdrawing their bodies within their shells, including the head, legs, and tails.


The shells of turtles are typically broad and oval in form. Because of their unique form, they are able to swiftly and efficiently traverse the sea’s water.

They experience less resistance to movement due to the shape of their flattened shells. What this implies is that they can now move considerably farther and quicker while utilizing a lesser amount of energy.

Due to their shells being flatter, however, they can no longer hide their heads and flippers from within them.

Thankfully, their quickness is crucial at this point. Whenever threatened, a turtle may rapidly swim toward safety in the ocean.


The terrapin’s spherical shell is somewhat elongated. The structure and design of their shells provide them an advantage while swimming through the water.

On the other hand, speed isn’t their first priority. While terrapins may hide their heads behind their shells, most of their legs are visible.

When threatened by an underwater predator, their plan is to flee as rapidly as they can to dry ground.

4. The Limb


The legs of tortoises are huge, powerful, and stocky. They also extend from the animal’s body in a manner that is not quite perpendicular.

For mobility, these legs are so powerful that they can raise the animal’s whole weight. Toenail-like scales sit atop huge, scratchy scales on their legs.

Tortoises’ legs are well-suited for navigating a wide variety of terrestrial settings, from rock formations to grassy plains.


In contrast to other reptiles, turtles lack toes. As an alternative, they use their flippers to push themselves through the water.

They have big, powerful flippers on their front legs. With their powerful flippers, they can propel their bulky bodies against the ocean’s choppy currents.

The tiny, streamlined flippers on their backs aid with direction control. Prior to laying their eggs, turtles must excavate a nest on the sand.

They are able to accomplish this because of their powerful front flippers. They may not have the most elegant digging implements in the world, but their flippers certainly get the job done.


There is no better of both worlds than a terrapin. Their short, stocky legs are slightly angled, and their toes are webbed.

They can swim more efficiently because to the webbing in between their toes. They do not need large flippers as sea turtles do since the marshy and freshwater waters they inhabit do not have large waves like the ocean.

A claw protrudes from the end of each toe. Terrapins use their claws to climb up logs and rocks for some much-needed sun and to go from one body of water to another.

5. Lifespan


When their longevity is taken into account, tortoises reveal their true beauty. Their life expectancy is 80, and it’s not uncommon for them to live to be over 100!

When given the correct care, both small and giant tortoises may live to very ripe old ages. Inadequate care and food cause some captive tortoises to die before they reach old age.

It may be difficult to provide the specialized care, dietary supplements, and spacious, enriching environments that tortoises need, and as a result, some owners ignore their tortoises.


In the wild, the majority of turtle species have an average lifespan of 70–80 years. Still, there are outliers at both extremes of the range.

The ocean may be a harsh place to grow up, particularly for young animals, yet turtles are able to escape the drama and thrive despite the odds against them by developing and reproducing rapidly.

The effects of climate change on their longevity persist, regrettably. As a result of global warming,

Coral reefs are dying, and as ocean currents shift, new predators are being introduced to which turtles have not yet evolved defenses.

As a result of these threats, marine turtles are living increasingly shorter lives.


Lifespan in the terrapin is short in comparison to other chelonians. The typical lifespan of most animal species is between 20 and 40 years. The well-known red-eared slider is one such example.

If raised properly from birth, however, they may extend their captive lifespan by a decade or more.

How Tell If It’s A Turtle, Terrapin, Or Tortoise?

It’s quite easy to tell the difference or identify whether it’s a turtle, tortoise, or terrapin by carefully looking at a few of its characteristics. Such as

1. Analyzing The Environment Keep An Eye Out For Time Spent Near Water.

  • Find out whether the reptile is a marine or terrestrial species. Tortoises are terrestrial animals.
  • Look to see whether the lizard prefers wet areas. It’s true that terrapins may be found both on land and in the sea. However, they are found in brackish environments like marshes.

2. Identifying The Physical Type

  • Pay close attention to the feet. Swimming is made easier by the flattened, webbed feet of turtles and terrapins.
  • Flipper-like feet characterize sea turtles. Land walking is made easier for tortoises because of their stubby, flat toes.
  • Find out what kind of shell it is. The skin of tortoises, terrapins, and turtles is scaly, and they all have hard shells.
  • Most turtles have hard, bony shells, but leatherback sea turtles are an exception. Shells of tortoises are often more rounded and dome-shaped than those of turtles and terrapins.

3. Keeping An Eye On Their Actions

  • Take note of their diet. Tortoises like grasses, bushes, and even cactus, all of which grow at a lower elevation. Unlike their reptile cousins, turtles and terrapins eat a broad range of foods.

Is Terrapin A Turtle?

Comparing a terrapin to a turtle would be difficult. The answer to that question is that it is a turtle.

Although terrapins typically inhabit freshwater environments like lakes and streams, they have adapted to survive in brackish (slightly salty) water in extreme cases.

As turtles go, terrapins are on the little end of the spectrum. There is no universally accepted definition of terrapin, and not all terrapin species are even strongly linked to one another.

The word “terrapin” appears to have been borrowed by British colonists from a North American vernacular sometime during the American period of exploration and settlement. This secured its continued use in modern English.


So, we can see that although turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are all members of the same family, they are notably distinct based on their habitat.

Because of the ways in which they have adapted, each of these animals is one of a kind and may teach us something new.

That this entertaining tutorial has enlightened you to the distinctions between tortoises, turtles, and terrapins is my sincere wish.

They have distinctive feet and shells that should help you identify them apart. Fortunately, you can enjoy the company of either turtles or tortoises without having to choose a favorite.

 Both may live side by side in harmony, not only on Earth but also in our thoughts and emotions.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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